LattaLane Boxers

18 Questions to ask a breeder

before you buy a puppy.

You're attracted to this breed and just about decided you're ready to invest in a good specimen. You've done a little homework on the breed and know enough to stay away from commercial puppy sellers. You've called your local kennel or boxer club for the name of a reputable breeder in your vicinity and now you're sitting in the breeder's living room, talking puppies.

The little guys you came to see are still nowhere in sight. Your breeder, in fact, is asking you many more questions than you think necessary, and may even seem a little "nosy" about your personal life. They want to be certain you're matched with the correct puppy.

To be certain you've got not only the correct puppy but the correct breed to suit you, your family and your lifestyle, you should bring your prospective puppy's breeder a few key questions of your own. Here are a few to top your list and start you off. Be aware that not every question applies to every breed; keep in mind, too, that no breeder will be able to answer every question to your satisfaction. Your goal in asking these questions is to get enough information to make a sound judgment.

1). What are the negative aspects of this breed? Does it shed? Seasonally? Continually? Does it bark excessively? If it accidentally gets out of my control, will it light out for Nome or trot obediently by my side? Does it eat an inordinate (and expensive) amount for its size? Does it require special or frequent grooming? (Does it dig holes? Does it chew? What is its temperament? (See question 7.)

2.) What can I expect it to be like as an adult? May I see his dam (and sire if in residence)? The philosophy of a good breeding program is to produce offspring who are even better than their show-quality parents, but if the parents are singularly unimpressive, don't hold out unrealistic hopes for the superior quality of their offspring. 

3.) Are there any special health problems associated with this breed? Cardiomyopathy? SubAortic Stenosis? Hip Dysplasia? Don't let any breeder tell you their breed or bloodlines are problem-free. Every bloodline, like every family, has some skeletons in its closet. Are they of vital concern to you - like blindness or lameness - or are they relatively trivial, like eyes a shade different than preferred, or a few short-backed or long-nosed specimens? Ask! And examine the pedigree every breeder will provide with the puppy. Ask about his illustrious ancestors, or get a breed book and see if they're mentioned. Champions (who are noted in red ink on the pedigree) aren't necessarily better than dogs who didn't finish their championship, but that's information you should elicit from your breeder.

4.) May I see a certificate from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA)? Many breeders will have one for each stud or bitch in residence who is 24 months of age or older. If an outside stud was hired, ask for his OFA number. This certificate states that the hips of the dog were radiographically examined by a veterinary radiologist and judged to be free of hereditary dysplasia (HD). This, and whatever information is on your puppy's pedigree - usually recent ancestors' OFA numbers are provided - is as much of a guarantee as you can get that your puppy will not suddenly fall victim to crippling dysplasia. Of course, dysplasia can be induced by overfeeding and providing inadequate footing, but your breeder will tell you all about that!

5.) May I see a veterinary cardiologist's report? A report from a board certified veterinary cardiologist should be available stating the each parent has been tested by color flow echo doppler and cleared of sub aortic stenosis. In addition, more and more reputable boxer breeders are having their breeding stock tested by a 24 hour holter monitor and cleared for any predisposition for cardiomyopathy. The sight of a beloved pet going blind from hereditary disease is an unnecessary heartbreaker, so be wary of buying the offspring of unexamined stock!

Hip Dysplasia and Heart Disease are two of the biggest risks you can take when buying boxer puppies through a source other than a reputable breeder. You want your "show dog" and especially your beloved family pet to be the same sound animal years from now that he is when you bring him home. Heredity and care are equally responsible: the breeder provides the heredity, but you must provide the care.

6.) What kind of exercise does this dog need? Can my facilities match its needs? Example: larger dogs need room to run and a firm footing - not a linoleum-covered basement - while so doing. Apartments or backyard tethers are generally unsuitable for these dogs (of course there are exceptions). They will become flabby and unhappy, perhaps even neurotic, and age more quickly. You will be doing each other a disservice if your facilities and needs are mismatched. If you want a larger or more active breed, or a breed that tends to be a "one-man dog," are you willing to fence your yard or build an adequate run for the safety and security of everyone?

7.) Is this breed temperamentally suited to my family? Will they put up with rough play from children, or be content to stay alone all day if I work? Will their need to chew and digest everything in sight interfere with, say, my garden or my collection of fine, old wood furniture? Be fair! You can't expect a dog to accommodate you by going against his nature. Read on to Question 9!

8.) What's the difference between keeping a male or a female? Usually not much, if you have them spayed/ neutered; a whole lot, if you intend to show or breed them. If you already have a male dog, emphasize this to the breeder before you buy a m ale puppy. Groups of dogs must create and observe a "pack order" in order to live together peacefully. This means one has to be the boss - sometimes at considerable detriment or mortal danger to the other ones. If you live in the country where your male might get loose but your neighbors have intact (unspayed) bitches, do you want to be responsible for litters of unwanted mongrel pups? If the dog is going to be inside the house or apartment, are you prepared to put up with the territorial marking and leg-lifting of a male identifying his territory (of course, you will housebreak him, in order to curb this problem indoors . . . right?)? If you want to keep an intact female, can you confine her comfortably for up to 12 weeks out of the year and be a good sport about occasional drips on your carpets? Can you build her a covered run to protect her against the resourceful neighborhood Romeos, or can you afford to board her for three weeks, two or three times a year? If you keep her intact, can you physically and financially raise a litter of puppies and guarantee them good homes?

9.) How do you use a crate? Bless you for asking this one and meaning it! Half your adjustment's over already if you take the breeder's advice about using a crate. Remember: a crate isn't a "mean old cage and a cruelty to puppies." Pups aren't human babies, so don't anthropomorphize about puppy's "suffering in a cage. " A crate is puppy's home; it's his security, a place to live in comfort while you're away. It's a place to enjoy the soft warmth of his own rugs and chew his bones without fear of punishment. It's a place of his very own, where he can get away from poking kids and teasing cats and can take those long naps puppies need for growth. Would you leave your three-year-old child alone in the house, free to roam around, destroy the house and injure himself because it's "kinder"? No, of course not. You'd be irresponsibly imposing unrealistic expectations upon him. In this case, consider your puppy like an irresponsible, dependent child. Why leave him free to roam because it's "more humane" and then punish him for following his puppy nature and making a meal out of your new sofa? (You think some large-breed puppies can't eat a sofa for lunch and blithely come back for the armchair for dinner?. . . Do you believe in the tooth fairy?) Why expect him not to chew an electrical cord and kill himself, or fatally shred his insides on a stray aluminum pie plate? Ask about crates, where to buy a sturdy and properly sized one and how to use it. Bonus: a crate-trained puppy will housebreak- in a few short days if properly taught - but that's another article!

10.) What's the difference between the less expensive and more expensive puppies? Your breeder will be glad to show you the Breed Standard, an agreed-upon set of guidelines which determine what a perfect specimen of that breed must look like, how he should move, what his disposition must be, etc. Puppies which conform most closely to this Breed Standard are labeled "show quality"; that is, they should be presented at AKC shows for points toward their championships as worthy representatives of their breed. Only show-quality dogs, in turn, should be used in a breeding program, to assure perpetuation of their excellent conformation. A puppy who conforms less closely to this Standard of perfection is considered "pet quality." The difference between a "show quality" and "pet quality" puppy may not be detectable to the untrained eye. The breeder will tell you which are "show" and which are "Pet" puppies. Be honest! Tell the breeder exactly for what purpose you want this puppy. Don't lie and tell l her you intend to show the puppy merely to get "the best one." if they are the result of a conscientious breeding by a reputable breeder, they will all be "the best" for pet purposes. They will all come from me sound, OFA'D, ACVO'D or CERF'D breeding s tock, and the chances are overwhelming they'll be just as sound 5, 10 or 15 years down the road as they are when you buy them. That's a bargain!

If you ask for a " show quality " puppy and don't intend to show it, you'll probably embarrass yourself in the end, as most breeders of show-quality puppies require show prospect purchasers to sign a sales contract which requires a buyer to show or have the pup shown through its championship. Breeders can usually spot equivocation in a prospective purchaser and may not agree to sell you a puppy at all because they'll mistrust your stated plans for its future.

Besides, often the most irresistible puppies, the best pets, the ones you fall in love with, have some little "fault" according to the Standard: a wrongly-placed spot of color, the wrong eye color (although blue eyes in a normally dark-eyed breed can signal albinism, so reject a frankly albino puppy!), a little bend in the tail or a shorter-than-standard tail, which didn't "come up" in a prick-eared breed, feet which toe in or out, legs which may be too close together or a back which may be too short, according to the Breed Standard. These little things hardly prevent a pup from being exactly the pet you're looking for!

If you buy such a pet, the breeder may ask you to sign a spay/neuter agreement for the pup, before turning over his AKC registration paper. This assures that only the specimens who most closely conform to the standard will be used to perpetuate the breed.

11.) Is this an expensive dog to keep? Not only must you consider the costs of feeding, veterinary care, obedience training - You will take the dog for obedience training, won't you? - and accessories such as collars, leashes, chew toys and the doghouse, but you must figure the additional costs of keeping the dog well-groomed and free of pests and debris that inhabit his coat and spell regular professional grooming for the long-haired breeds. (Of course, you can learn to do it yourself, too, and save a fortune!) You must also consider the cost of building him a run or fencing in your yard-, the cost of special supplements which some breeds, show dogs and bitches-in-whelp require; the cost of occasional boarding when you're away or want to avoid accidentally breeding-, the cost of photographing him ad nauseam: and the cost of that necessary crate (which I'm going to keep pushing on you!); and you must be able to absorb any little emergencies, like midnight trips to the vet after a skunk attack or dogfight - and all without having to declare bankruptcy! Many pure-bred dogs are abandoned at the vet's because their owners couldn't afford to "bail them out" after extensive treatment and were too embarrassed to approach the vet about time payments. The initial cost of the dog is the smallest expense he'll ever incur! In overall expenses, however, some breeds are cheaper to maintain than others. ASK!

12.) I've had this breed before and I love it; or I love this breed and I'm anxious to own and exhibit a show-quality puppy. Will it be expensive to get my dog's championship? Can I afford it? I don't know. Can you? Like everything else in life , you can go the cheaper, do-it-yourself route: take the puppy to handling classes, then pay his entrance fees as you travel around with him to matches and shows, prior to which you've groomed him yourself. This takes time and know-how and you may enjoy the sport of dog exhibiting; you may also find the classes tiring and repetitious, the show conditions windy or muddy or crowded, or the long waits before you're called into the ring a boring experience. You may wish to turn this championship business over to a professional handler. I'm told that on average, showing a dog to a championship costs at least $2,500 in handlers' fees. If your dog is show quality but won't set the breed on fire, it may be considerably more. Are you prepared to choose between a small car and your dog's championship?

13.) I want this show puppy and I can afford to hire a handler: Will you handle her for me? If a breeder is also a handier - and many are, to make ends meet chances are, they will. If they can't do it, they'll recommend someone competent and familiar with your breed. It's good advertising for their kennel and breeding program when one of their puppies earns its championship.

14.) Where can I go for a course in Obedience Training? Bless you again! Basic obedience training is just good manners. A "down" command keeps puppy from jumping on everyone who comes in the door (especially helpful with small children and large breeds). "Stay" keeps him in place when you must walk away for a moment, and should keep him from darting into traffic. "Heel" keeps him safely at your side when walking and is obviously the lesson that was missed by those people you see being dragged down the street by a big, strong dog. Express interest in obedience training; it impresses the breeder, gives the dog the security of knowing exactly what is expected of him, and can even save his life! It is not, as one of my rejected prospects believe d, "where they hit the dog and teach him to be mean." "Show training" or "conformation class" (note the "o"; this is a secular endeavor!) is for show puppies, and if you're interested enough in the breed to buy a show puppy and pilot him through his championship, then be interested enough to ask about handling classes in your area. Sometimes it's required in the show contract you sign.

15.) I'm in love with the breed but don't think I'm up to raising a puppy: Do you ever have any older dogs? This is a realistic and sensitive question , and with a reputable breeder, the answer is usually yes! Show and pet puppies are returned to their breeders for reasons ranging from the trivial to the profound. A show dog may not want to carry its tail properly when showing; a puppy may have simply outgrown the "cute" stage', or more seriously, the dog may have exhibited bad temperament. Between those extremes are usually owner-related problems: the owner wouldn't use a crate to housebreak, and then complains that puppy "won't learn"; the owner wasn't interested in obedience class and complains that "puppy pulls and I can't handle him." Some times unsuccessful puppy owners are too embarrassed to state the real reason, but usually it's apparent to the breeder. Sometimes the dog is full-grown and has perfect house manners and has been returned for some reason like faulty tail carriage or a show home's financial reverses - which make no difference to you. If you take a full -grown dog from a breeder, question her closely about why it was returned, and be sure the answer is one you can live with. This may be your ideal pet. In my case, I acquired a wonderful show dog and brood bitch this way, without the dubious "thrills" of puppy ownership. Even the most conscientious puppy sellers often misjudge people and make mistakes in puppy placement. That mistake can work to your advantage! Bonus: half-grown dogs generally aren't as cute and saleable as tiny pups, and there may be some consideration reflected in the price.

16.) Are there any books you can recommend about this breed? Stand back while the breeder bombards you with names of good ones! Cast an eye on her bookshelves and write down the eye-catching titles.

17.) Are you a member in good standing of your breed club? Joining a breed club shows interest in the advancement of the breed. Every breed club has a code of ethics, however, and violators may be suspended.

18.) Will you sponsor me for membership in the breed club? That's the right spirit - good luck with your puppy!

LattaLane Boxers
24094 Highway AA, Corder, MO 64021

Thomas & Carol Latta    boxers@lattalaneboxers.com

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